4. The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal
4.1 As outlined in Chapter 3, the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) (the Act) established the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT).
4.2 VOCAT is the key body to which both the supplementary and the first terms of reference relate, as it determines all applications for financial assistance made under the Act.
4.3 This chapter outlines the establishment of VOCAT under the Act, the structure of VOCAT and the processes and procedures of VOCAT as required under the Act.
4.4 This chapter also provides an overview of current demand for VOCAT.
Establishment of VOCAT
4.5 The Act established VOCAT as the body to hear and determine applications for financial assistance made by victims of crime.
4.6 The Act prescribes the functions, powers and procedures of VOCAT and requires that in all matters before it, VOCAT must act:
• according to the substantial merits of the case
• with as much expedition (promptness) as the requirements of the Act and a proper determination of the matter permit.
4.7 VOCAT describes its role as one of hearing and determining applications for financial assistance made by victims of ‘violent crime’ and as providing a ‘sympathetic and compassionate forum for applicants to relate their experience as victims of crime’.
4.8 VOCAT has acknowledged it has an important role to play in providing practical and flexible assistance to victims, including in providing a therapeutic forum for victims to tell their story and have their experiences acknowledged.
The structure of VOCAT
4.9 VOCAT consists of tribunal members, who are magistrates. It comprises the Chief Magistrate and all magistrates and reserve magistrates under the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic). Each VOCAT hearing is constituted by a single tribunal member.
4.10 Although located within the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, VOCAT is a separate entity with its own jurisdiction.
4.11 The Chief Magistrate appoints supervising magistrates to support the operation of VOCAT. Supervising magistrates encourage best practice across VOCAT and represent VOCAT in its dealings with other members of the judiciary, staff and the community.
4.12 In addition, the Chief Magistrate has delegated tribunal powers to 10 judicial registrars to determine certain types of applications, including interim awards of financial assistance. In 2015–16, judicial registrars determined almost 22 per cent of final awards.
4.13 VOCAT operates in all 51 Magistrates’ Court venues across Victoria.
Specialisation within the VOCAT structure
4.14 In 2006, VOCAT established a specialist Koori List which is now a permanent part of VOCAT operations. The list was created to ensure that the purposes and objectives of the Act could be achieved for Koori applicants.
4.15 The Koori List does not apply any different legal considerations. All determinations are made within the framework of the Act. However, the list enables VOCAT to be more responsive to the circumstances of Koori victims of crime.
4.16 VOCAT has stated that key to the success of the Koori List is the procedural flexibility and informality available under the Act which enable the Tribunal to respond flexibly to applicants’ circumstances. This may involve sitting at a table to hear participants, rather than at the bench, adopting a more informal approach and receiving culturally specific information from community representatives.
The procedure and process of VOCAT
4.18 VOCAT’s procedure, however, remains a legal process, which is bound by the provisions of the Act.
4.19 As noted above, in deciding applications for financial assistance made by victims of crime, VOCAT has a duty to act fairly, expeditiously (promptly) and according to the merits of the case.
4.20 In addition, VOCAT must give a party to the matter a reasonable opportunity to call or give evidence, examine, cross-examine or re-examine witnesses and to make submissions.
4.21 VOCAT has the power to issue a warrant for arrest against a witness who has been served with a summons to attend a VOCAT hearing and who has failed to do so. VOCAT also has broad investigative powers to make any enquiry and order any document or report that it requires.
4.22 Figure 2 below outlines the VOCAT process and its relationship with other criminal and civil processes for victims.
4.23 In its submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Magistrates’ Court stated there had been a 337 per cent increase in VOCAT’s case load between 2001–02 and 2013–14.
4.24 In 2015–16 there were 6221 applications to VOCAT, representing an increase of 2.8 per cent from 2014–15. In 2015–16, there were 4161 awards of financial assistance. This is a decrease of 6.7 per cent from the previous financial year.
4.25 The average amount of financial assistance awarded by VOCAT in 2015–16 was $7784.
Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) s 19.
Ibid s 32.
Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Our Role (2016) <www.vocat.vic.gov.au/about-tribunal/our-role>.
Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Annual Report 2015–16 (2016) 17.
Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) s 19(2).
Ibid s 21(1).
Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Annual Report 2015–16 (2016) 14.
Ibid 13 and 25.
Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Koori VOCAT List Pilot: Review and Recommendations (2010) 9.
Section 38(1)(a) of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) provides that VOCAT is not required to conduct itself in a formal manner.
Ibid s 38. See also Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Annual Report 2015–16 (2016) 25.
Section 20 of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) provides that VOCAT has the functions, powers and duties conferred on it by the Act. See also Victims Support Agency, Department of Justice and Regulation (Vic), Counselling for Victims of Crime (2011) 63.
Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) s 32(1).
Ibid s 38(1)(c).
Ibid s 37(1A).
Ibid s 39.
Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and Children’s Court of Victoria, Submission No 978 to Royal Commission into Family Violence, Royal Commission into Family Violence, June 2015, 45.
Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, Annual Report 2015–16 (2016) 32.